Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit twice asked legal officials to change the stated reasoning for the closure of a criminal investigation against him, according to a television report Friday.
Prior to his appointment as attorney general in 2016, police had recommended Mandelblit face charges in the so-called Harpaz affair, a 2010 scandal in which he was suspected of having helped military brass cover up a smear campaign while serving as the IDF’s top prosecutor.
Yehuda Weinstein, Mandelblit’s predecessor, decided to close the case in 2015 without charges.
According to Channel 13 news, Mandelblit asked Weinstein in August of that year to change the reasoning from “lack of evidence” to “lack of guilt,” but was told to file a formal appeal — which he did not do.
Then in July 2016, with Mandenblit already serving as attorney general himself, the report said his lawyer sent a letter to then-state attorney Shai Nitzan requesting to change the grounds for the closure.
The network noted that Nitzan had written explicitly in a January 2015 letter to Weinstein that “after thoroughly reading all the material, my position is that there is no place to close the case for lack of guilt.”
After receiving the request from Mandelblit’s lawyer in mid-2016, Nitzan met with prosecutors at the State Attorney’s Office who handled the case against the attorney general. The report said they were unsure of what do, as they were reluctant to come out against their boss.
The report said Nitzan then deliberated with additional legal officials, including Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, with whom he reached the conclusion that honoring Mandelblit’s request could raise concerns of a conflict of interest since the Mandelblit was now his superior.
Nitzan then informed Mandelblit’s attorney he would not take any action, the report said, leaving the legal opinion in place.
A statement on Mandelblit’s behalf said that in a High Court ruling on appeals against his appointment “in which it was unanimously determined by a bench of five judges that there was no fault in his actions, [the court] clarified there was no blame in the acts for which Mandelblit was investigated.”
The statement said “All the senior officials who dealt with the matter believed the proper reason to close the case under the circumstances was a lack of guilt” but that justice officials “determined it was improper for any subordinate to the attorney general” to change the official reasoning.
Friday’s report was by journalist Ayala Hasson, who last month broke a gag order to raise questions about Mandelblit’s conduct in the Harpaz affair.
Hasson said a 2010 recording exists in which Mandelblit, then the military advocate general, told Gabi Ashkenazi, then the IDF chief of staff (and Mandelblit’s boss) and now the foreign minister, that he would make sure to “close the matter” for him, adding he would ensure that the deputy state attorney “tilts the scales in our favor.”
Hasson later noted that these were not direct quotes and that she was paraphrasing. The recording in question is under a gag order and is legally inadmissible as it was made without Mandelblit and Ashkenazi’s knowledge.
Prosecution officials have said in response to Hasson’s comments that the decision not to charge Mandelblit and Ashkenazi in the affair — despite a police recommendation to do so — was made after an extensive review of many conversations between those involved.
And, they said, “the content attributed to the speakers by Ms. Hasson is similar to content of other conversations reviewed by those handling the cases” before the decision was made to close them. They said Hasson was “misleading the public” by alluding to a cover-up by the justice system.